Ocean County put its best foot forward in 2022-23, with three teams from the Shore’s southern county making it to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and five spending time ranked in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. In Class A South alone, four of the six teams were ranked at one point or another last season and it resulted in one of the Shore’s best divisional races through the end of the season.

With the divisions schedules altered this season, the Class A South rivals will only play one another one time each, but games against notable Class B South teams like Central Regional, Manchester and Lacey will carry more weight than in past years.

That race does not figure to be as tight this year because while three of the four 2022-23 contenders are replacing four starters each, Toms River North brings back all but one player from its rotation from last year. The Mariners dominated the division from 2015 to 2020 and after falling back to the pack in 2021 and 2022, they appear to have re-established themselves as the standard in the division.

In predicted order of finish

1. Toms River North

Micah Ford, Tareq Council and Jeremiah Pruitt just completed one of the most dominant runs by a core of seniors in Shore Conference football history and will now quickly turn around and make one more push for glory on the hardwood at Toms River North. The trio has not enjoyed the same success on the court as it has on the gridiron – hardly any team has – both the Mariners are coming off a 20-win season and Class A South division championship with nearly an entire rotation back for what could be a big season in 2023-24.

While Toms River North has benefitted from the football pedigree of multiple prominent players, the Mariners also have a group of skilled specialists that make them hard to guard. Senior guard Owen Baker was the team’s second-leading scorer (12.9 points per game) behind Ford (14.5) in 2022-23 and was No. 2 in the Shore Conference in assists (4.8) among players who are returning this season. Point guard Sherrod Nelson is the lone returning impact player from the junior class and he is another ball-handler and distributor with defensive prowess after averaging just under six points, four assists and three steals. Senior Garret Dushek rounds out of the starting lineup after playing his way into a major role as a junior who can guard multiple positions with his size while also providing a perimeter threat on offense.

Three years removed from reaching the Shore Conference Tournament final, Toms River North will be among the collection of teams battling to make it to the conference final to oppose heavy SCT favorite St. Rose. Few teams will be able to match the Mariners in strength and athleticism, so if Toms River North grows as a team when it comes to execution, it will be hard to beat them. As for the Class A North division, the Mariners are the heavy favorite and their showdown vs. Central Regional on Jan. 12 in Bayville will be a showdown for Ocean County supremacy.

Toms River North junior Owen Baker. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Toms River North junior Owen Baker. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Toms River North at a Glance

Head Coach: Rory Caswell, 13th season
2022-23 Record: 20-8 (8-2, first in Class A South)
Key Losses: Delani Hyde (6-7, Forward)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Sherrod Nelson, Jr., 5-10, Guard

Owen Baker, Sr., 6-0, Guard

Garret Dushek, Sr., 6-4, Forward

Micah Ford, Sr., 6-1, Forward

Tareq Council, Sr., 6-4, Forward


Off the Bench

Jeremiah Pruitt, Sr., 6-1, Guard/Forward

Sean Irby-Gathers, Sr., 6-4, Forward (Transfer from Ga.)

Matt Shea, Sr., 6-5, Forward

Aiden Anderson, Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward

Bryce Kazanowsky, So., 6-4, Forward


2. Southern

Southern got off to a roaring start in Class A South divisional play in 2022-23 and held down the top spot in the standings through one turn through the division. Last year’s team had some inexperience in the starting lineup, but the role players stepped up right from the start of the season. The second time through the field was not as kind to Southern and a similar start this season would be fortuitous considering division opponents only play one another once apiece this year.

Like last year, there will be some new names in the starting five and like last year, Southern has the makings of a team that could fire out of the gate. The way the Rams will beat teams is likely to be different than it was a year ago: Southern was a big, physical team with a few hot hands on the perimeter in 2022-23, while this year’s squad has the makings of a faster-paced, guard-oriented group that should put points on the board at a quicker pace.

Senior Caden Schubiger is the returning starter and senior leader of the group, with classmate Leo Crowley moving into one of four open starting spots. Junior Cooper Dempsey is a knock-down shooter who was both a weapon off the bench and a part-time starter a year ago and should transition smoothly into a larger role. Sophomore Jake Sliwinski and freshman Noah Perna are impact underclassmen, with Sliwinski averaging 5.8 points as a freshman at East Brunswick at year ago. Freshman Spencer Walsh and senior Brian Harper will provide some size off the bench, but the Rams will roll with a relatively small lineup this season that will put points on the board and contend for postseason wins again.

Southern at a Glance

Head Coach: John Pampalone, fifth season
2022-23 Record: 14-12 (6-4, tied third in Class A South)
Key Losses: Tom Menegus (6-6, Forward), Pat Gaffney (6-1, Guard), Max DiPietro (6-2, Forward), Justin Silva (So., Forward)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Caden Schubiger, Sr., 6-0, Guard

Jake Sliwinski, So., 6-1, Guard (Transfer from East Brunswick)

Cooper Dempsey, Jr., 5-10, Guard

Noah Perna, Fr., 6-1, Guard

Leo Crowley, Sr., 6-2, Forward


Off the Bench

Mark Keggin, Sr., 6-1, Forward

Rich Flores, Jr., 5-10, Guard

Brian Harper, Sr., 6-3, Forward

Spencer Walsh, Fr., 6-3, Forward


3. Jackson Memorial

The upcoming season will be the first season in which Jackson Memorial has a senior group that has played four years under coach Randy Holmes, who took over the program in 2020 with an extensive résumé as both a coach and player at Lakewood. The Jaguars boasted two seniors a year ago who played four years for Holmes, but now the entire senior group, plus the rest of the team, will all be on the same page.

That cohesiveness will be key because there is a lack of playing experience on hand for Holmes this season in a division that boasts a favorite in Toms River North that is loaded with talent and experience. Senior Shaun Hubbard is the lone returning starter from last season and he was a role-player whose primary job was to rebound and defend. While Hubbard is likely to pick up some of the lost scoring, a large portion of that responsibility will go to Jackson Memorial’s backcourt trio of senior Devin Jones, junior Brady Adams and sophomore Randy Holmes Jr. – all of whom return with varsity experience. Jones also has starting experience from his sophomore season at Long Branch in 2021-22.

Seniors Anthony Hallihan and Cameron Moldovan and sophomore Jimmy Pappalardo will be tasked with aiding Hubbard in the front court. While there will be questions to answer for this group and Toms River North looms large as the defending champion, Jackson Memorial will be in company as an experienced team with potential in Class A South. If Holmes and Adams can take a leap forward and Jones can provide the scoring punch that he did for Long Branch two years ago, the Jaguars will find themselves back in the postseason with a different cast.

Jackson Memorial at a Glance

Head Coach: Randy Holmes, fourth season
2022-23 Record: 20-7 (7-3, second in Class A South)
Key Losses: Samir Padilla (5-10, Guard), Respect Tyleek (6-2, Guard), Keith Adame (6-1, Guard), Charlie Meglio (6-5, Forward), Mekhi Cherry (6-2, Guard/Forward), Joe Antenucci (6-3, Forward), Caleb Frage (6-1, Guard)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Randy Holmes Jr., So., 6-3, Guard

Brady Adams, Jr., 6-0, Guard

Devin Jones, Sr., 5-10 Guard

Shaun Hubbard, Sr., 5-10, Forward

Anthony Hallihan, Sr., 6-3, Forward


Off the Bench

Matt Pitera, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Cameron Moldovan, Sr., 6-2, Forward

Jimmy Pappalardo, So., 6-3, Forward

Dan Smith, Sr., 6-2, Forward

Cristian Aiello, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Jonathan Peten, Jr., 6-2, Forward


4. Brick Memorial

The Mustangs are another Class A South team with a lot of scoring to replace, which includes 2023 Class A South Player of the Year Josh Michigan. When fully healthy, Brick Memorial boasted an all-senior starting lineup, meaning the Mustangs will look much different this season. Senior Tyler Ellerbrock is most experienced returning player for coach Mike Pelkey after Ellerbrock served as a sixth man, as well as a starter for part of the season. The senior gives Brick Memorial length and athleticism on the wing, not to mention experience as a tough varsity role player on a quality team.

The rest of the lineup is new, although it will have a pair of seniors in Carlton Cummings and 6-foot-6 forward Isaiah Crispin to go with Ellerbrock. Joe Witter is the lone representative from the junior class and the rest of Brick Memorial’s rotation consists of a promising sophomore class that will look to quickly fold into the operation in order to set Brick Memorial up for immediate success.

Sophomore Austin Braaten is tracking as a starter, with Shane Braaten and Nyz Matthews set up to contribute significant minutes as well. Sean Collins and Elijah Crispin are each 6-4, giving Brick Memorial a potential front court that will be a matchup problem against what is a guard-heavy division. If Brick Memorial can overcome its youth, develop quickly and piece together some scoring, the Mustangs have the makings of another contender in 2023-24 with a chance to be especially dangerous in the next two seasons.

Brick Memorial at a Glance

Head Coach: Mike Pelkey, seventh season
2022-23 Record: 16-11 (6-4, tied third in Class A South)
Key Losses: Josh Michigan (6-4, Guard), Brian Starrett (6-3, Guard), Dorian Alston (6-4, Forward), Eric Sliazis (6-4, Forward), Jeremiah Crispin (6-1, Forward)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Tyler Ellerbrock, Sr., 6-3, Forward/Guard

Carlton Cummings, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Isaiah Crispin, Sr., 6-6, Forward

Joe Witter, Jr., 6-2, Guard

Austin Braaten, So., 6-3, Forward


Off the Bench

Nyz Matthews, So., 6-1, Guard

Shane Braaten, So., 6-2, Forward/Guard

Jason LaJara, So., 5-9, Guard

Sean Collins, So., 6-4, Forward

Elijah Crispin, So., 6-4, Center

Tyler Garbooshian, So., 6-1, Guard


5. Toms River East

Despite winning only five games last season, Toms River East showed glimpses of promise along the way. The Raiders made it to one of the two championship games in the WOBM Christmas Classing by taking down St. John Vianney and Marlboro and in 10 of their 22 games, they either won the game or lost by four points or fewer. A key for Toms River East in 2023-24 will be swinging its fortunes in close games after going 2-7 a year ago in games decided by five points or fewer.

Two starters return from a year ago, led by third-year starter Jason McKelvey – an all-around threat who can score, rebound and defend while also shooting better than 50 percent from the floor as a junior in 2022-23. Steven Scorsone also returns to the starting five after pushing his way into the lineup as a junior on a year heavy on returning talent. Scorsone is likely to lead the team in scoring after putting up 8.7 as a junior while showing range out beyond the three-point line.

Junior Luke Mathus will take on a greater role this season as the starting point guard, while senior Jackson Markovitch returns to the back court as a high-energy player on both ends. Senior Nick Ferreira and Pilgrim Academy transfer Justice Fergus will give McKelvey some help in the front court and the Raiders some size to counter the bigger rosters on the schedule. Starting experience was not enough to carry the Raiders to a winning season last year, but with the lessons derived from that season plus, a quality offseason and a pair of proven producers to lead the lineup, they are set up to take a step forward this season.

Toms River East at a Glance

Head Coach: Tom DeRiggi, fifth season
2022-23 Record: 5-17 (2-8, fifth in Class A South)
Key Losses: Dylan Russell (6-3, Forward), Manny Vargas (5-11, Guard), Jacob Mathus (5-10, Guard), Soren Wilson (6-3, Center)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Jason McKelvey, Sr., 6-2, Forward

Steven Scorsone, Sr., 6-0, Guard/Forward

Luke Mathus, Jr., 5-11, Guard

Jackson Markovitch, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Nick Ferreira, Sr., 6-4, Center


Off the Bench

Justice Fergus, Jr., 6-2, Forward (Transfer from Pilgrim Academy)

Jacob Pinto, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Chris Ende, Sr., 6-1, Center

Mason Clinton, Jr., 5-9, Guard

Gabe Feliciano, Fr., 5-11, Guard

Joe DiMeo, Fr., 6-1, Forward

Anthony DeMarco, Jr., 5-11, Guard/Forward


6. Toms River South

If experience wins the day, Toms River South is set up for a climb up the Class A South standings in 2023-24. The Indians return three starters and a pair of experienced contributors that will make up this year’s starting unit. Senior Jordan Jones leads the group in his third year as a starter and is the kind all-around point guard that can make a huge difference for a team trying to level-up after a string of losing seasons like Toms River South has endured.

Alongside Jones in the back court is fellow 5-8 senior Kai Barckley, who edged out Jones for the team scoring lead in 2022-23 at 9.9 points per game. Sophomore Shane Gambarony rounds out Toms River South’s talented back court after getting minutes as a freshman and with all three guards well under six-feet, the Indians could use some size in the other spots.

Fortunately for Toms River South, the size will be there. Robert Peirson averaged eight points and 6.5 rebounds as a junior and at 6-4, he can match up with Class A South’s frontcourt threats. Senior Declan Sennick is the other starter at the forward and 6-5 senior Mark Avendano is another option with size to compete in the paint. With proven scoring prowess from Jones Barckley and Pierson leading a physical front court, Toms River South has a chance to close a gap that has proven difficult to close in recent years.

Toms River South at a Glance

Head Coach: Vin Arminio, fourth season
2022-23 Record: 6-18 (1-9, sixth in Class A South)
Key Losses: Easton Slack (6-2, Guard), Mazaiah Brown-Height (6-2, Guard)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Jordan Jones, Sr., 5-8, Guard

Kai Barckley, Sr., 5-8, Guard

Robert Peirson, Sr., 6-4, Forward

Declan Sennick, Sr., 6-2, Forward

Shane Gambarony, So., 5-8, Guard


Off the Bench

Jarrod Johnson, Sr., 6-5, Center

Mark Avendano, Jr., 5-11, Guard

Aiden Lynch, Jr., 6-2, Forward

Jacob Myers, So., 6-0, Forward


Class A South Starting Five (With 2022-23 Stats)

Owen Baker, Toms River North (12.3 points, 4.8 assists, 2.9 steals)

Micah Ford, Toms River North (14.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.2 steals)

Jason McKelvey, Toms River East (8.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists)

Tareq Council, Toms River North (5.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.8 blocks)

Caden Schubiger, Southern (8.4 points)


Breakout Players to Watch

Jake Sliwinski, Southern

Garret Dushek, Toms River North

Randy Holmes Jr., Jackson Memorial

Austin Braaten, Brick Memorial

Steve Scorsone, Toms River East

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